Health secretary Matt Hancock set out plans to make prevention a central plank of the upcoming NHS long term plan, and a green paper will be published on this issue next year.
In an accompanying Department of Health paper on this issue, it says the workplace was a “great setting for reaching people with messages promoting and encouraging health lifestyles”.
This will include preventative advice and action on smoking, eating healthily staying active, and improve mental health.
The document states: “Many businesses are already taking action in this space, and see the benefits of higher staff morale, and lower rates of sickness absence. In the end a healthy workforce is a more productive one. More employers should follow suit to help improve the health of their staff and of the nation.”
Hancock says that these plans will build on the work by this and previous governments to improve public health across the UK. It says that this new initiative will shift the focus to primary and community care services and the value they can bring in offering early support.
In a speech to the International Association of National Public Health Institute Hancock says: “We are spending £97bn of public money on treating disease and only £8bn preventing it across the UK. You don’t have to be an economist to see those numbers don’t stack up.
“Our focus must shift from treating single acute illnesses to promoting the health of the whole individual. That requires more resources for prevention.”
He adds that as well as putting prevention at the heart of the NHS long term plan, the government will also focus on new “predictive prevention” to help bring healthcare firmly into the modern era.
Punter Southall chief commercial director John Dean described this speech as a wakeup call for UK employers.
He says the minister has highlighted that 10 times more money is spent on treating disease rather than preventing it – but points out the same is true for employee benefits spending.
Dean says: “Employers need to shift the focus of their employee benefits spending away from treatments for the ill such as medical insurance, critical illness and even life insurance – and focus on healthcare solutions that benefit the majority.”
He adds: ““While the minister has suggested companies introduce positive initiatives such as bicycle loans, free fruit and counselling services to promote health, they can go so much further by embracing technology solutions, such as health screening.”
“Technology exists today that enables companies to screen people’s DNA, their blood and their physical and mental health. Such screenings can be a one-off investment for companies that would give employees valuable personal health information that will help them make informed choices about their future health. Employers would also gain a high-level overview of their workforce health which can enable them to make informed investments in wellbeing.”
VitalityHealth chief executive Nevill Koopowitz adds: “Public Health England research in 2016 revealed that illnesses associated with lifestyle cost the NHS £11bn.
“This is an avoidable cost to society and, in an era of challenging financial choices for the country, it is an expense healthcare providers must attempt to address.
“At Vitality we know that a few simple lifestyle changes can have a hugely positive impact on people’s future wellness. Our member data shows claims costs decreased by up to 33 per cent when physical activity levels increased, demonstrating that prevention is as important as cure when it comes to our health.”
The DoH paper highlighted companies like food manufacturer Rodda which has put a significant emphasis on health and wellbeing among its 178 staff.
Initiatives introduced include free fruit for all staff, a counselling service, bereavement and legal services, cycle to work scheme and a staff volunteer schemes. The company is also introducing Mental Health First Aiders for all staff to help them better understand their own mental health and assist others.